Often when married couples encounter rough spots in their relationship, well-meaning friends or family members encourage them to see a therapist or to go for couple’s counseling. Many people are not aware that another option is also available: Marital Mediation.
Marital Mediation is an option I often bring up with couples who come to me to begin divorce proceedings – especially if I sense any ambivalence in one or both parties when I ask if they are in agreement as to next steps.
In my initial informational-gathering meeting, I find out a little bit about both the husband and wife, and learn about some of the issues that have led them to believe that divorce is their only option. Sometimes one or both parties think that the marriage has really been over for a long time and that it only remains to make it a formality. But if, as I listen to them express their concerns and difficulties, I believe one or both parties think that the relationship may be salvageable, I gently suggest that they may want to consider another avenue: Marital Mediation.
What Is Marital Mediation?
Marital Mediation is not therapy or counseling. I am not licensed as a therapist or counselor. Marital mediation is not about your parents’ marriage, or analyzing why you behave the way you do. Instead, as an objective third party, I do a lot of listening, and help you think outside the box as we explore alternatives you may not have thought about before.
Unlike Divorce Mediation or Collaborative Divorce Practice, in which the objective is to make the divorce process as smooth and fair as possible, the goal of Marital Mediation is to seek ways to keep the couple together and resolve their differences.
What Kind of Issues Come Up in Marital Mediation?
The issues couples fight about are sometimes influenced by how young they are (or were when they got married), how long they have been married, and what stage of life they are in. Financial struggles, young children, and aging parents put tremendous pressure on a marriage, and are key struggles that most couples will run up against at some point in their marriage. If they have developed a good communication style and learned to fight fairly, they can often deal with some of these problems on their own. If not, they will likely need a third party to help moderate and guide them as they work through their differences.
One big issue revolves around money. One spouse might be a saver while the other is a spender. A husband might have a different financial risk tolerance than his wife, leading him to invest aggressively or start multiple businesses, while she worries that creditors may attach a lien to their home. Through Marital Mediation, we can explore solutions that would allow both spouses to remain true to their natures while alleviating the fears of the other. For example, in the above scenario, the house could possibly be transferred to the wife’s name to protect it from creditors, leaving the husband free to explore his entrepreneurial or investor streak without the wife having to remain in a constant state of anxiety.
Another trouble spot is in the arena of child-rearing. Parents often revert back to what they learned growing up in their family of origin once they begin to raise their own children. If one parent tries to enforce strict discipline while the other applies a laissez-fair style, tensions mount and children suffer.
Areas of discord like these tend to snowball until they take on a life of their own. Once a couple reaches that point, it becomes very difficult to think logically rather than react emotionally. It then becomes my job as the mediator to help parties focus and narrow the issues down so we can get them back on the same page. I try to help them remember what brought them together in the first place, remind them that it is important to preserve the foundation that the marital “house” was built upon.
As life expectancy continues to increase, marriages are lasting longer. A century or two ago, couples would often have only two or three decades together. Today, couples who marry young are easily together for six decades or more. We are usually very different people at age 50 or 80 than we were at age 20. If spouses do not grow and weather the storms together through the years, they tend to develop separate (often lonely) lives, with very little common ground remaining to sustain them when ugly arguments rear their heads.
What is the Goal of Marital Mediation?
Eliminating surface problems that have been plaguing a marriage will free a couple up to work on the relationship itself. Often surface problems are only symptoms of deeper issues which need to be identified and worked through.
I am always careful to explain to a couple that just because we may have been able to successfully work through a problem, it won’t make the rest of their relationship perfect. “Happily ever after” only exists in fairytales. While many starry-eyed young couples believe that love alone is enough to live on, veteran married couples understand that a lifelong relationship takes work, compromise, and a mutual decision to do whatever it takes to help the marriage survive.
Ironically, it is true that opposites do generally tend to attract. We are drawn to people who have strengths where we have weaknesses. The advantage of a team made up of two very different perspectives is that a more balanced view is usually reached in the end – but the process of iron sharpening iron on a daily basis is usually not at all enjoyable, as spouses strive to change each other into a version of themselves. It is only as maturity and improved communication skills are attained that a couple can begin to appreciate their differences. By resolving peripheral issues, they can begin to focus on what really matters, rather than majoring in the minors.